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Sunburn remedies you can find at home

Use these natural ingredients to help heal a painful sunburn and learn the best over-the-counter products for fast relief.

Hallie Levine By Hallie Levine

Sunburns happen. Even to the most faithful sunscreen users. The good news: If you suffer from pink and tender skin and wonder how to treat sunburn quickly, relief is as near as your kitchen cupboard.

Here’s a look at seven things you’ll find in your kitchen that can help dial down the symptoms of a sunburn and speed healing. We’ve been using some of them, like honey, to treat sunburns for centuries. But there’s also solid science behind them. Combine these with effective over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and creams to soothe your skin in no time.


Aetna D-SNP members get an allowance for certain over-the-counter (OTC) items like sunscreen, sunburn remedies and pain relievers. Learn more at AetnaMedicare.com.


 

Try these natural sunburn remedies

1. Honey

But not to eat. Instead, gently rub it on sunburned skin for relief. Research shows this can help burned skin heal faster. “Honey is a natural moisturizer and is full of antioxidants,” says Debra Jaliman, MD. She’s an assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Antioxidants are compounds that help prevent cell damage. Honey also has antibacterial properties, and it helps with the irritation and redness of a sunburn. Try this remedy only at home so you can wash the honey off after a few minutes. You don’t want it to ruin your clothes!

2. Oatmeal baths

Oatmeal has several antioxidants that help reduce inflammation, says Beth Goldstein, MD, a dermatologist in North Carolina. Oats also hold moisture and move it to your skin. That will help ease pain and itchiness, she adds. To make an oatmeal bath for sunburn relief, add 2 tablespoons of finely ground oatmeal to a tub of lukewarm or cool bathwater, then soak. (Use steel-cut or rolled oats, not instant oatmeal. Grind it in a food processor.)

3. Cold milk

Milk has lactic acid, which helps gently remove dry, peeling skin from the top of the burn, explains Dr. Goldstein. That helps speed your skin’s healing process. Cool milk is also soothing to your skin. Soak a thin washcloth in a bowl of cold milk for a couple of hours, then place it on sunburned skin.

4. Tea

Tea is rich in antioxidants that can help ease the inflammation of sunburned skin, says Dr. Jaliman. If you have green tea, try that first. It has high levels of a substance called catechins, which help reduce the redness and swelling of sunburn. Other teas, such as black or chamomile, will also do the trick. Dr. Jaliman recommends making tea ice cubes, which are easy to put on red, raw areas. You can also steep the tea bags for sunburn relief, let them cool completely, then rub them on the affected area. Or simply dip a cloth into cooled tea.

5. Vinegar

If you don’t have open skin or blisters, you can use some diluted vinegar to help ease pain, itching and inflammation, says Dr. Goldstein. One way: Add a cup of apple cider or white vinegar to a lukewarm bath. Soak for half an hour. You can also put washcloths soaked in diluted vinegar in the freezer. Then take them out and put the frozen cloths on the sunburned area.

6. Coconut oil

Since it’s very high in fat, coconut oil can be a good moisturizer, says Dr. Goldstein. It’s also rich in antioxidants that can help fight inflammation. Just wait at least a day after getting sunburned to use it. The reason: Because coconut oil is so thick, it can trap heat in your skin, which could make things worse.

7. Cornstarch

“Cornstarch is naturally water-absorbing. It will absorb sweat and help keep the area dry and cool,” says Dr. Jaliman. Just dust your skin with dry cornstarch. It might be a bit messy, but it reduces painful friction between your sunburned skin and clothes. That can make it easier to get dressed and sleep on sheets when your skin is feeling tender.


Looking for indoor exercise ideas? With the SilverSneakers® fitness program benefit, Aetna D-SNP members have access to online videos for yoga, strength training and more. Check your eligibility and learn more at SilverSneakers.com/GetStarted.


 

Stock up on these OTC sunburn soothers

In addition to home remedies for sunburn, these OTC products can help speed your recovery from sunburn.

  • Moisturizers with aloe vera: “Aloe is great because it’s an anti-inflammatory,” says Dr. Goldstein. “It also stimulates your skin to produce collagen, which helps it heal.” One research review found that aloe could help burned skin heal faster.1 Just make sure the aloe is fragrance-free. Fragrances can make already sensitive skin worse.
  • Anti-inflammatories: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help ease swelling and pain. Try aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen. Take them as soon as you notice that you’re sunburned. The benefits go down after about 24 hours.
     
  • Hydrocortisone cream: It can help ease some of the swelling and itching of a sunburn. But stay away from any creams or sprays that end with “-caine.” One example: benzocaine. These numbing ingredients may irritate your skin or cause an allergic reaction.
     
  • Talcum powder: This product is made from the mineral talc. You can sprinkle a little on your sheets before you go to bed. Like cornstarch, it may make it more comfortable to sleep if you have a sunburn. “It will cause less friction when turning around or moving from one side to another,” says Dr. Jaliman.

 

1. Hekmatpou D, Mehrabi F, Rahzani K, et al. The effect of aloe vera clinical trials on prevention and healing of skin wound: a systemic review. Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences. January 2019; 44 (1): 1-9.

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